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Addressing High COVID-19 Burden in Vulnerable Groups

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"What can be done to protect against the spread of COVID-19 within immigrant detention facilities? The federal government should mandate CDC COVID-19 detention facility guidelines across DHS-associated detention facilities. These interventions are low-tech and effective."

"The responsibility for the health and protection of detainees and asylum seekers lies with the federal government. Past failings when it comes to infectious disease prevention do not bode well for the DHS’s ability to control the spread of COVID-19, with the data already suggesting widespread transmission within DHS facilities. We call on professional societies, including the Infectious Diseases Society of America, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association to urge DHS to accept CDC guidelines as the standard of care for COVID-19 infection prevention and evaluation for immigrant detention facilities. This will be an important first step toward limiting disease spread and protecting the lives of the most vulnerable in federal custody."

"But who protects the quarantined? Waxing and waning of restrictions on movement may soon become a reality, especially as testing and non-pharmaceutical interventions are heterogeneously applied over geographical space. Restriction orders have the potential to protect the public against illness, but those that benefit most are often outside the boundaries of restricted areas, and those within can suffer deadly consequences as inequalities persist."

Addressing High COVID-19 Burden in Vulnerable Groups



Advocate action to address the underlying inequalities and policy shortcomings causing increased burden of COVID-19 in vulnerable groups in the United States. 



The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is highlighting the inequalities which have long existed throughout society. In the United States, the disease continues to put vulnerable populations at risk — people who are unable to protect themselves from infection or do not have access to services suffer deadly consequences. We aim to study and bring to light these disparities, highlight the suffering of the most vulnerable, and advocate for change. Much or our work to date has centered on the federal immigrant detention centers, which lack clear and consistent guidelines to control the spread of COVID-19.


Project dates

March 2020 - present


Stage of work

Active research and publication.


COVID-19, Quarantines, Sheltering-in-Place, and Human Rights: The Developing Crisis | John J. Openshaw, Mark A. Travassos | The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene | August 5, 2020

Op-Ed: Gov't Putting Immigrant Detainees at COVID-19 Risk | Mark A. Travassos, MD, Carlo Foppiano Palacios, MD, and John J. Openshaw, MD | MedPage Today | July 25, 2020

COVID-19 Outbreaks in US Immigrant Detention Centers: The Urgent Need to Adopt CDC Guidelines for Prevention and Evaluation | John J Openshaw, Mark A Travassos | Clinical Infectious Diseases | May 31, 2020



Primary Contact:  John Openshaw

Stanford University

.  John Openshaw

University of Maryland

.  Mark Travassos, MD